work in progress

34 days to washington

"34 Days to Washington: Taking Measure Across the American Landscape" is a process art project involving bicycling 2034 miles from Springfield, Illinois to Washington D.C. following the inaugural route of Abraham Lincoln. By 'taking measure' I mean exploring the landscape physically as well as historically. By retracing the meandering path Lincoln rode to Washington D.C., it is my intent to explore the notion of an historic journey as also a mythic journey and an act of interpreting the American landscape. My bicycle is a metaphorical horse used to travel.

The bicycle affords me a low impact mode of travel and research over a long distance and it situates me in an intimate relationship to the changing landscape and the local population. During the time of travel, I reflected on the notion of absence and presence, my place in the landscape, the power of a cultural icon, contemporary aesthetics, and the process of conceptually documenting a journey. Mapping is a process that ultimately results in the creation of a landscape historically and politically. It points us to the aura of a 'place'. Memory has become a powerful subcategory of history and boundaries are one of the most contentious things fought over in the modern world. (And yet they are also the most malleable.) Histories I have found are like boundary lines drawn on a paper, continually being erased and redrawn over time. From these initial representations however, sometimes a more visualized landscape is painted. What I initially thought would yield static views ended up revealing what I would call, cinematic experiences. Travel is like reading a book and movement on a bicycle is like watching a movie. The dilemma this posed also revealed a paradoxical relationship between the landscape and the methods used to record it. The lines and fades in the paintings suggest skips and distortions in film. The irregular shapes and boxes in the images are reminiscent of my struggles with navigation and a lack of topographical information. Sometimes an image appears cloudy and clear simultaneously. They are all inspired from specific and imagined locations I 'saw'.

I came to experience 'time' as somewhat of a measured visual perception. The picture frames are inspired from slides. The typography and numbers are the harbinger of more complete maps, GPS coordinates, cellphones, or compasses. I had to rely on all of these as well as dead reckoning on my path. In Indiana, I learned to see a tree on the horizon 15 miles away as an hour; the bend on the road ahead could be 10 minutes. As the terrain changed, I was forced to recalculate my impressions. Moving along the Delaware River in New Jersey for example, defied my expectations as I camped in an area that resembled the view travelers would have seen 150 years ago. Time and space constantly reminded me that being a casual observer was illusory.

I found myself realizing the dichotomies that form their natural conclusions: such as how the notion of a “wilderness” contains within it the notion of “containment”; and how a reverential depiction of nature depends on technique and this in turn reveals that I have created nature in my own image. Ultimately, I try to tell my truth and imbue the picture plane with what makes nature potent, mysterious and ultimately untamable while at the same time making manifest an awareness of this view of nature as a product of my own mythology.

Don Pollack 2011

This project is an extension of the Lincoln Project, a painting exhibition that appeared at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois in February 2009 and the Union League Club in Chicago in July 2009. The research project was begun in 2002 after meeting with Thomas Schwartz, the Illinois State Historian and viewing the Abraham Lincoln archives.

In 2010,- it was subtitled, "A Mile for Your Penny" and it also raised money by asking for a donation of a 'penny for a mile' to help fund Cancer research.